It’s probably the easy thing to do to assume that the cliches you hear about life post-grad are overdone and exaggerated, and that people who say they “have no idea what’s next” or “have a bunch of debt but no job” are being over-dramatic, making things seem way scarier than they are. But unfortunately, these fears are all too relevant and real for most people getting ready to end their undergrad careers. Sure, for people gearing up to enter some fields, continued education is the necessary next step: law school, medical school, or just graduate study in general. But what about for those of us who don’t need or want to keep going? Those of us who, for now, are finished being students as it has been our main priority for the past 16 years of our life, and want to move on? If we don’t have a really great, well-paying job lined up, or are making a living working for ourselves (kudos to you, social media influencers), it can be hard not to feel entirely lost. And especially if you’re surrounded by people who have job offers lined up or are registering for classes and renowned grad schools, it can also feel lonely.
Remembering that mostly everyone at this stage of life is struggling with these same concerns is a bit helpful, but it doesn’t relieve the gnawing feeling that, come this May, many of us are going to be working part time jobs that are likely not in our desired industry, wondering what to do next. There is simultaneously an overwhelming feeling of being able to do whatever we want now that we have so much time freed up from required readings and exams, and having no prospects at all because the job market is so hard to break into and the pandemic has vastly changed the landscape of finding a real job as a recent graduate. Until this point, everything has been planned out for us: laid out on a calendar and providing step-by-step instructions and deadlines. Now that that’s gone, everything is on us, and that is both terrifying and extremely liberating and exciting.
Whatever you are feeling about post-grad life, whether it’s cluelessness about the future, excitement about the endless possibilities, an eagerness to break into your career field, or even a debilitating fear of not being able to do so and having to move back home for awhile, it’s valid. It’s reasonable. It’s real. And most likely, anyone who tells you they didn’t feel any sort of worry about the relentless quest that is “what comes next?” is either really lucky, or a really good liar. So it might feel like a lonely, internal and personal experience, and it very much can be, but you’re truly not alone. This is a seriously universal, widely-felt and shared experience. And what’s more, most people who go through this take quite a bit of time to figure out the answer, because it is anything but black-and-white for most of us. There’s no one-way street or solution, and even when you find something great, whether that be inspiration and resources to start your own business, a position with either a company you’ve wanted to work with or in a totally new field, an opportunity to travel, or any other endeavor that’s part of “adulting,” the chances that once that’s over you’re going to be back to feeling unsure is pretty great.
So what can we do to combat this? Due to the normalcy and nature of these feelings, we can’t make them magically disappear. They’ll always linger, so what really counts is what we allow and don’t let them do. We can’t let it keep us from getting out there and trying things or pursuing opportunities, because the world is going to keep spinning and the last thing we want to do is hold ourselves back from moving with it. There are some more active strategies for dealing with uncertainty, though. According to a Psycom interview with Dr. Silvestri, this includes positive self-talk and reasonable expectations. This means, when struggling to find a job for example, shifting our thought process to something along the lines of “This feels hard, but I know I’ll get a job eventually,” as opposed to “I’m not good enough and I’ll never make it.” It can be hard to maintain that, but the ladder is unlikely to improve our circumstances. Also, embracing complexity. This next life stage is complex, but complex doesn’t inherently mean bad. We should also be open to constructive criticism and seek feedback, by way of things like talking to a resume writer, going to networking events, or asking a trusted mentor to practice interviewing skills. When you do this, according to Dr. Silvestri, “You’re controlling the things that are in your control.” As far as what’s not in our control, we have to let it take its course and ride the waves.
What is arguably even more cliche than post-grad anxieties, is being told to stay positive through them. But cliches in this case do not contrast with the truth, and it doesn’t lessen the effectiveness of things like positivity, determination, patience, and most importantly, being kind to ourselves, and knowing that we are ultimately going to be just fine.